Q. Recently someone was quoting John 20:21-22 as proof that if we forgive someone, they are forgiven – and if we do not forgive them, they remain unforgiven. This was put forward as “proof” that we are able to forgive sins in others just as God does, or in spite of God, as the case may be. I know this is not the intention of this verse, but I am not sure how to refute it. Can you help?
A. John 20:21-22 is where the disciples became the apostles in that they went from being students to being the sent ones. To help them achieve the purpose for which they were being sent, the Lord gave them two things.
The first was the Holy Spirit by which they were equipped for ministry, and second was the authority to welcome into the Church those whose prayers of confession they judged by the power of the Holy Spirit to be sincere.
They weren’t forgiving anyone’s sins in the direct sense but were authorized to extend the Lord’s forgiveness to a repentant sinner in the same way a pastor does today.